One year in the books for newly opened SunTrust Park and the 2017 season saw the Atlanta Braves finish the season 3rd in the NL East with a 72-90 record. The Braves have many questions surrounding the organization with the biggest question being when top prospect Ronald Acuna will make his big league debut. Does he start opening day? Do they hold him in the minors to gain the extra year of service time? Or do they keep him at Triple-A until the Braves as an organization feel he is ready? Other questions consist of who fills out the rotation? Who will play 3rd base? How will the team progress with new GM Alex Anthopoulos?
It is fair to say that this offseason had its goods and bads for the Braves. It started back in November when former GM John Coppolella was notified he was banned from Major League Baseball for life for breaking the international free agency rules. As a result, the Braves lost 13 prospects whom they signed within the past 3 years, one most notably being prized prospect Kevin Maitan, the 2nd best prospect in 2016 International free agency. In comes new GM Alex Anthopoulos, who was previously the GM of the Toronto Blue Jays and a part of the Los Angeles Dodgers front office.
The Brave then proceeded to make 2 trades during the month of December, beginning with a deal that sent Matt Kemp to the Dodgers in return for 1B Adrian Gonzalez, RHP Brandon McCarthy, LHP Scott Kazmir, SS Charlie Culberson, and cash. Two days later, they released Adrian Gonzalez. The Braves also made a deal with Houston for outfielder Preston Tucker for a player to be named later. As far as 2018 is concerned, the Braves have remained quiet thus far.
When you look at the Braves, the only name that seems to jump out at you is Freddie Freeman. He is by far your best hitter and the cornerstone for the Braves lineup. The 28-year-old has always been a positive contributor to the lineup. Within the last two seasons, he has really come into the guy the Braves thought they were getting when they drafted him back in ‘07. Freeman was on pace to put up career numbers until a wrist injury caused him to miss some time. With Freeman entering the prime of his career, we should expect him to play to the utmost level, and with his skill set, he can help lead something special down in Atlanta.
Braves skipper Brian Snitker will return for his 3rd season with the Braves in hopes to resurrect the Atlanta Braves organization. Snitker has been around the team for 40-plus years and is definitely a favorite by players in the clubhouse.
“I went to (the front office) a couple of weeks ago and expressed to them that we love Brian in here. That’s all I can do is tell them how I feel about a guy who’s put in all the time and done everything possible to help us win. He deserved the managerial job when he got it, and we all hope that he’s back.” – Freddie Freeman to Atlanta Jounral-constitution (via Fox Sports)
As for the pitching rotation, acclaimed “ace” Julio Teheran had a 2017 to forget, posting a 4.49 ERA over 32 starts. His ERA jumped from 3.21 in 2016 by more than a full point. In addition to his atrocious ERA, he posted some of the worst numbers of his career including 151 punch outs, a 1.37 WHIP and allowing 31 long balls. The cause of these numbers is very clear: the death of Turner Field and the birth of SunTrust Park.
Teheran has a case to not pitch at home because his Home/Away Splits are astounding. A 3.14 ERA away from SunTrust in 94 ⅔ IP, and a 5.86 ERA at home in 93 ⅔ IP. WHAT?!?! That’s right, his ERA was over 2 full points better on the road than at home. It seems to be clear that Teheran is an ace when they travel and far from it at home.
The thing I love most about the Atlanta Braves is the young talent that they posess. You can start with the middle infield consisting of 2015 1st overall pick Dansby Swanson, and 2013 International free agent signing Ozzie Albies. Albies was a mid-season call-up, and in his 57 games during the season, he compiled a slash line of .286/.354/.456 and swiped 8 bags. Albies is set to be one of the next young stars for this team and will solidify the right side of the infield playing next to Freeman. On the other hand, it is hard to say the same for Swanson.
The former 1st overall pick out of Vanderbilt was given high praise after being drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was soon traded in a deal that sent him and a few other prospects to Atlanta in exchange for Shelby Miller. Needless to say, it doesn’t seem like either team “won” the trade, because so far, neither of them have produced to the level they were expected to. In 144 games, Dansby had a slash line of .232/.312/.324 which is awful. Swanson did not produce to the level he is capable of, and those numbers even bought him a ticket to Triple-A Gwinnett to try and fix his game. The Braves like him and still believe he can grow into a key contributor.
The Braves also have a plethora of pitchers that are ready to contribute in the bigs. The two that are most anticipated to make a splash are lefties Sean Newcomb and Luiz Gohara. Newcomb made his debut last June, throwing 6 ⅓ scoreless innings against the New York Mets. However, it was all downhill from there, he finished the season with a 4.32 ERA in 19 starts. Newcomb possesses a four-pitch mix with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a curve that generated a decent amount of ground balls. Newcomb has always been a high strikeout guy recording a 10.71 K/9 in his time in the minor league, although in that same time he holds a very high walk rate with 4.58 BB/9. Newcomb projects to fill in one of the rotation spots this season as well as Gohara.
Gohara has a three-pitch mix with a heater that sits at 97 MPH. While he only had 5 starts, he has always been a high strikeout guy and, similarly to Newcomb, has a higher than average walk rate. Gohara is fighting for a rotation spot and is highly expected to be with the Braves come opening day.
The biggest question surrounding the Braves organization is the Ronald Acuna situation. Acuna is one of the biggest stories going on in baseball right now. Signed in 2014 out of Venezuela, Acuna wasn’t expected to be where he is today. Acuna skyrocketed through the prospect rankings and is now the #2 prospect in baseball according to MLB Pipeline. Throughout his time in the Braves system, Acuna has always been a guy that will hit for a high average and will get on base. He is more than capable of hitting double-digit home runs and could swipe upwards of 20 bags. Playing half his games at SunTrust, Acuna could definitely be a 20-20 guy. What the Braves will do with Acuna is in their hands, but he has definitely made his case for being an opening day starter.
The Braves, as an organization, are still a year or two away from being a contender. However, if the young guys successfully develop, the Braves could easily be a serious threat to contend by 2020. One thing that you will notice about the Braves is we expect to see inflated numbers at SunTrust especially for the pitching staff, but on the other hand, we could see some more high scoring games as well.
Record Prediction: 79-83
A 79 win season would be a 7 win increase for the Snitker-led group. Given the weakened state of the NL East, they probably finish right in the middle of the division. I highly expect Teheran to have a better season than last year’s, and the offense will be led by Freddie Freeman and, my preseason pick for NL Rookie of the Year, Ronald Acuna. This team should be a fun one to watch this season and for years to come.